Espresso- Extracting Magic

Contrary to popular belief, brewing espresso does not require a particular type of bean, nor category of roast (light, medium, dark). Instead, this highly concentrated drink focuses on pushing pressurized water through a finely ground bed of coffee in less than 30 seconds. Most often, espresso is paired with milk, and depending on the ratio makes the variety of drinks people have come to know and love. For instance, there is the classic latte (Italian for milk), the ever-so-elegant cortado, and hair-bending double shot. But, no matter what you decide on for the day, it all starts with the same basic process. In the next few paragraphs, you will learn to make espresso from home with a generalized formula that is capable of working with any machine. Here at Grounds for Travel, we use a Breville Duo Temp Pro Espresso Machine, which is a small, portable piece of equipment paired with a water reservoir. So, for those of you wanting to invest in an apparatus that gets the job done, but doesn’t break the bank, this is the one for you.

Here is what you will need:

-Espresso Machine

– 16-19 g Coffee (preferably beans, but finely ground coffee will suffice)

-Water (TBD based on machine)


-Grinder (if using whole beans)

-Portafilter and metal basket


-Milk Pitcher (if machine has steam wand capabilities)

Many of the primary principles used to dial in coffee for a slow brewing method carry over into the espresso process, and it can often feel like playing chess. {Fun Fact- Chess was invented in northern India in the 6th century.} What we mean by this is not that dialing in is a painfully game to learn, but rather a sometimes but does require patience and a willingness to make sour faces. {Side Note- Feel free to comment your initial reactions to your first shot of homemade espresso in the space below!} We will not go extremely in depth in this post, since it is largely about how to prepare it, but keep the following pattern in mind (and stay tuned for a post that explores the proper dial in technique and a break down of the seven major espresso drinks):

{“What is left behind must run its coarse, but those that finish quickly must be refined.” In other words, if your shots are tasting sour (acidic, absence of sweetness, and has a lingering aftertaste), then you need to make your grind size more fine. But, if your shots have an ashy or smokey taste (bitter), then you will want to coarsen up the grind.}

Step One: Jack’s Magic Beans

The first thing that you will want to do is ensure that you have a portafilter capable of holding enough coffee grounds for a double shot (16-19 g). {Hint: If you do not, you will want to be sure and cut all of the measurements in half.} Once you have checked on your parameters, use your scale to weigh out between 16 and 19 grams of coffee, and grind it to the consistency of confectioner’s sugar. Once this is finished, grab your portafilter with the inserted metal basket and dry it off.

Step Two: Everything in One Basket

After preparing your coffee and portafilter, use the scale to see precisely how much coffee makes it into the basket. {Pro-tip: If you have a grinder that is capable of inserting the coffee straight into the portafilter, this will make your life easier, but it is not necessary. If you do not have a grinder like this, we recommend using a spoon to carefully fill the basket, or an aeropress funnel.} Depending on your machine and tasting preferences, you will want to use about 18 grams of coffee per two ounces of espresso. {Hint: 2 ounces of espresso are typically served since many shops maintain the standard of pulling double shots.} Once filled to your liking, grab your tamp (also called a tamper), and get ready to press down.

Step Three: Under Pressure

Up until this point, much of the quality loss has derived only from the roasting and grinding of the beans, but now that it is time to apply pressure, it could greatly affect the outcome. The key is to tamp evenly with just the right amount of pressure. Experts would likely tell you that the pressure should be between 30 and 40 pounds, but since using a scale that is able to withstand this amount pressure is not convenient, we recommend pressing down until it feels like the coffee is pushing back. Another trick to keep in mind is holding the portafilter like a baseball, meaning the pointer and ring finger should sit at a clock’s 11 and 1, while the thumb rests at the 6. Be sure to pay attention to keeping your elbow perpendicular to the ground. In order to see how well you did at tamping evenly, leave the tamp in the portafilter, and bring it to eye level. Take note of how to adjust yourself for the next time, until you have developed proper muscle memory.

Step Four: Lock and Load

The next step is to attach the portafilter into the grouphead (the space in the machine specifically made for holding the portafilter). Usually the groves are offset, which means you will be able to turn the handle slightly to the left, and once it is in the correct place you will be able to tighten it by pulling the handle back towards the center. Be sure to press or activate any buttons or levers quickly after tightening the handle in order to avoid any unnecessarily added heat to the grounds. The extraction process should take between 22 and 31 seconds; again depending on the machine, and preferred ratio.

We hope that you have found this brew guide to be helpful. If you have any of your own Pro-Tips or advice, please leave your comments in the space below!